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CVA’s new ‘best of’ show highlights notables in Minnesota photography

Cory Prahl, "Chelsea Court," 2009.
Courtesy of Weinstein Gallery
Cory Prahl, “Chelsea Court,” 2009.

As you walk into the new photography exhibition at College of Visual Arts, you’re immediately greeted by a large-format photograph by Lynn Geesaman, a vividly hued image of a manicured, tree-lined parkway both illuminated and bisected by the “path” of sunshine streaming above it. Turn the corner and enter the modest gallery space, and you’re treated to an eclectic assortment of work by some of Minnesota’s most acclaimed contemporary photographers.

Think of this as a “best-of” sort of exhibition — a considered sampling of noteworthy area photographers who represent the present and future of the field, as determined by CVA curators and educators; for each of these selected artists, an exemplary piece was chosen for the show, representative of their most significant recent work.

In truth, the 17 large-format pieces gathered for “The Minnesota Eye” offer just a taste of the breadth and diversity – in technique, style, and subject matter – of our region’s most notable photographers. But there is some very fine work on view here. I dare say you’ll recognize many of these artists’ distinctive shots on sight; a great number have already earned international acclaim. Among the notables included are Alec Soth, JoAnn Verburg, Paul Shambroom, Tom Arndt, Katherine Turczan and Cy DeCosse.

While it’s always a pleasure to see new work by such venerable photographers, I was especially taken with work by a couple of emerging artists, particularly a compelling, wry image of a suburban landscape by Cory Prahl. His 75-by-60-inch photograph, “Chelsea Court,” depicts a ruthlessly groomed cul-de-sac, in which the houses and cars have been digitally scrubbed from the scene. The resulting landscape is stark – with its empty driveways, heavily pruned dwarf trees, short-cropped lawns and bereft mailboxes – and curiously forlorn without these familiar markers of occupancy.

Another emerging talent (and newly minted McKnight fellow) Carrie Elizabeth Thompson caught my eye: Her contribution to the show is a warmly lit, intimate portrait of her grandmother— specifically, of her grandmother’s casually crossed legs. The image is simply luminous, capturing both the beauty and frailty of the human form: the translucent ivory skin of old age, her vulnerable, bare feet, and a gentle tracing of blue veins, just under the surface. (You can browse through an online slideshow of all the work included in the exhibition here.)

“The Minnesota Eye” will be on view at the College of Visual Arts gallery in St. Paul through Nov. 14. There is a free, public reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31. Members of the public are also welcome to attend a Nov. 5 panel discussion, led by Weinstein Gallery director Leslie Hammons, and a Nov. 8 gallery talk by MIA photography curator David Little, “Thoughts In and Around Photography Today.”

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